Riding clinic: Jam buster

Published: 18 March 2017

Master the art of slicing through congestion

Probably the best thing about riding a bike is not having to sit in a queue with all the other drongos. But there is a snag: making use of your superior narrowness and manoeuvrability brings you close (often extremely close) to traffic. And the more you do that, the better you need to get at predicting what might be about to happen.

Stationary traffic on the motorway, for example, might sound the safest time to filter between the queues. No car can suddenly change lanes in front of you. But that won’t stop you riding into a car door when some berk opens it. If you look at it that way, every stationary car and truck is a potential booby trap. So filtering is about always giving yourself the time and space to react to the unexpected. Except that it isn’t really unexpected, because you’re thinking about it now. Perhaps ‘unwanted’ is a more truthful description. 

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And if you’re going to put yourself in a situation where unwanted things have a higher chance of happening, your level of awareness needs to step up, too. You need to take total responsibility for working out what everyone else is going to do. Consider, for example, a queue building up on the North Circular. A driver in the middle lane sees the snarl-up in time, and dives off down a side road. He’s still congratulating himself when you pile into his left passenger door. But can you really say you were caught by surprise? If so, what were you thinking about instead? Or you’re creeping past a high street queue, and the car ahead has left a gap in front. Whoopee! You can relax for a moment, and allow yourself a burst of throttle. Too late you realise the gap was opposite a side road, and the driver was beckoning another car out. Who was at fault? Who cares? You’re the one who gets hurt. 

So check for clues: exit ramps, wheels beginning to steer, heads looking in a different direction. Ten years ago the average car or truck driver was driving. Today, that same person is best described as a ‘distracted occupant’. I love filtering whenever I can, but I concentrate harder than ever.

 

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